- Mental Health»
Natural Way to Boost Your Mood, Avoid Depression
I went through a rather blue period a while back and came out of it after attacking it several different ways through exercise, nutrition and supplements. In addition, I increased my face time with good friends and spent time walking along beautiful wooded paths with my dog. Not that you need to go out and get a dog but I do guarantee that is usually an instant mood lifter right there! I read dozens of books and any magazine that claimed to have “the answer” to happiness. What I found is there is no one magical thing, but several things you can do to help yourself feel better.
A good friend recently asked me for my tricks and I sent him a long list of things I did when I started my journey to feeling better. Talking to me helped him a little and was a good start but he needed more simple suggestions to change his life. I typed out a long email to him, which led me to write this article. Here are some relatively easy ways to boost your mood and fight sad feelings. I suggest you start small and work your way up to this but eventually, I encourage you to do everything on this list! It will really help.
1. Exercise- this one is probably up there as one of the most important changes you can make in your life to feel better overall. Work up to a decent jog for a mile or two a few times a week for the biggest benefit. Walking fast is okay but the runner's high, when the natural endorphins produced by your body kick in, is as good as any pill you could try. Exercise increases the production of serotonin, the mood-regulating neurotransmitter targeted by prescription antidepressants. For me, this was the NUMBER ONE thing I did that really helped the most. I eventually worked my way up to running a half marathon, but again, a few miles a few times a week will suffice. I started by walking fast and then running a few miles almost every day. You have to make yourself do it. I even ran in the cold and the rain and hated the first few minutes but after a mile or so and especially when I was done, I felt great, like I had accomplished something. The smaller waist helped boost my self esteem as well. BUT remember, even though I lost 20 pounds after a few months, that was not the magic cure to happiness. Losing weight helps, but just because you are in great shape, it doesn't solve everything. I looked better at least but I was still depressed. Working out with weights twice a week was also beneficial to feeling stronger and firmer but if you only have time for one from or exercise, cardio worked best for fighting depression.
Even better, add a day or two after work or on weekends where you meet up with a workout buddy at the gym or yoga or cycling or whatever. Do what you like to do and it will not seem like work. Bonding while exercising doubles your mood boosting efforts! Spending time with friends is also on this list. Make sure they are fun or at least kind friends and not negative people, as the latter could make you feel worse.
2. Eat better and cut down on sugar and fried food. This is not a diet and you might not lose that much weight, but anything that makes you healthier will naturally make you feel better so try it. Sugar makes me temporarily happy and then I crash and feel worse. Don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol, candy and donuts, it will ultimately make you more upset. A drink now and then is fine, but don’t over do it. Red wine is the best choice since it offers anti-ageing properties along with the buzz. There is a list of foods that specifically boost your mood at the very end. You won’t like everything but you most likely will like some of the choices so increase your intake of those items. I will mention my main addition to my daily nutrition here because I think it helped me the most: Greek yogurt, or any yogurt, is good because of the probiotics in it which are great for your intestines and digestion. The root of many illnesses starts there so yogurt can increase your immunity. I also don't eat tons of meat so the protein in the Greek yogurt is important for me to have. Who can feel happy when their stomach is upset? Yogurt. Eat it. Often.
3. Take supplements with Omega 3, Vitamin Bs and Vitamin D (for more energy) and try a combination of St. John’s Wort and HTP 5. The last two helped me, I saw a significant difference, but it took about a week or so to notice so stick with it. No side effects that I could tell. 5-HTP also helps you sleep better, or so it claims, and a lack of sleep makes me tired and more irritable. Both are natural supplements. 5-HTP is manufactured from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. It is found in health food stores and at some drug stores and GNC.
4. Have things planned that you can look forward to. A trip, a race, a concert, anything. One thing I did was find a Groupon to a local comedy show which was an inexpensive way to laugh and have fun. They say planning and anticipating a good time in the future makes you feel better now. Do other small fun things throughout the week like lunch with a good friend, a funny movie- anything to perk yourself up. Massage is expensive but if I am every really down, I treat myself! Who can feel sad getting a massage?
5. Music! Listen to upbeat music when you're doing chores, cooking, walking, sitting, anything. Download the tune “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Ban any sad songs from your playlist until you can handle them.
5.Talk to a good friend or therapist or BOTH! You need people and social interactions. I know I do! It’s easy to stay home and wallow, but don’t. If you don’t have good friends or they live far away, join a club or group so you can meet people of similar interests.
6. Volunteer for a good cause. Seriously, do this. Volunteering does temporarily give you a "feel good/I did something good" feeling for a while. I used to do a lot of work with underprivileged kids and it was hard but rewarding. My favorite volunteer work was going into an elementary school and helping a child who barely spoke English with her reading once or twice a week. She gave me a handwritten thank you card at the end of the year that made me cry. Everything was misspelled but I treasure it to this day. I also like doing adopt-a-family and angel tree gifts during the holidays. Do Habitat for Humanity and meet other people while you work for a double dose of mood boosting. Try it and see.
7. Lights! Okay, I’ve never done this but my best friend from high school swears by it. I just never bought one. Especially during the dark winter months, spend time close to bright indoor light, like a light box or a visor with strong lights so you don’t have to sit in one place and stare at a light. This is a main treatment for (SAD) seasonal affective disorder treatment. Many different types of lights are available from about $40 to $300. Do this at least in the morning for 20 to 30 minutes or few times a day is best, although the boost in serotonin may only be temporary. OR, I do this, make sure to get out into the daylight especially in the morning first thing since there is nothing like natural Vitamin D from the sun. Even 15 min a day helps. A lack of it increases sadness. Put on sunscreen after ten minutes or so of absorbing your rays since wrinkles make me sad.
8. Keep a “feel good file.” You know when you get a thank you from someone and they say how great you are or how lucky they are to be your friend and you have a nice moment where you feel good about yourself while reading it? Keep anything like that, print out an email, or post-it note where it shows you how special someone else thinks you are and refer back to it when you are feeling down about yourself. I received a card from someone that I even kept in my car to read and remind myself someone cared a lot about me.
9. Love yourself! Give yourself a break. I used to forget things and driving off late to a meeting or appointment, I would “yell” at myself the whole way for being an idiot. Don't do this. It’s mean. I wouldn’t dare treat anyone else as badly as I have treated myself in the past and it is not productive. Tell yourself it’s okay and you’re okay. Everyone makes mistakes. Think of all the good things you do. Praise yourself for that. (Refer to list #8 :-)
10. Drink LOTS of water for many reasons, it can help fight depression and it flushes your body of toxins which build up faster when you have stress. Add cucumbers and/or lemons for extra health and flavor.
11. Get enough sleep. Ain’t nobody happy when they are dead tired. Go to bed before you think you should and shoot for 7.5 hours average.
Foods that fight melancholy:
All these foods listed below are not everyone's favorite, but there are bound to be a few on the list you like. Eat more of them. I read about them from various books, websites and magazines and they seem to be the top players in fighting depression.
1. Asparagus - good source of folic acid, which produces serotonin and helps stabilize mood.
2. Avacados- best fat you can have that’s a good source of monounsaturated fat and potassium, which lowers blood pressure. Olive Oil is also good.
3. Bananas - Full of potassium, a mineral that can help reduce tension.
4. Beets- I seriously love beets. Most people don’t! Try them. They come in all forms. I love me some beet salad. If I am not convincing you, move on to the other foods. Beets contain folate and it’s been shown that a deficit of this key nutrient can trigger depression and mental fatigue.
5. Blueberries and other berries: Berries are high in anthocyanidins These phytonutrients make them purple, blue and red in color. The anthocyanins in berries inhibit key enzymes that lead to anxiety and depression. Try to eat only organic when possible.
6. Chocolate!! Although it has to be a form of dark chocolate. But hey, it’s still CHOCOLATE! With its healthy antioxidants in the dark, cacao rich varieties, chocolate is one of the best mood-boosting foods around. Chocolate is metabolized by the body into serotonin, a major mood-enhancing hormone.
7. Eggs – contain tryptophan, which converts eventually into serotonin.
8. Mushrooms- Mushrooms are rich in selenium, which studies have linked deficiencies to a higher risk of depression, anxiety and fatigue. They are also a source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient most folks don’t get enough of.
9. Oatmeal - Carbohydrates in oatmeal increase serotonin levels for a calming effect.
10. Oranges - Vitamin C helps your immune system function under stress more efficiently.
11. Sea Vegetables/Seaweed like kelp, nori and wakame. Sea veggies are one of the few sources of iodine. Too little of this important mineral can trigger fatigue, weight gain and depression. I sometimes force myself to ingest some at Asian restaurants but not my fave. Beets!
12. Skim Milk - high in vitamins B2 and B12 and also provides protein and calcium, which can reduce and tension and soothe PMS.
13. Spinach- contains magnesium, which helps improve your body’s response to stress.
14. Sweet Potatoes - good source of vitamin B6, which help support a wide range of activities in your nervous system and help give you a major dose of relaxation.
15. Tuna (or any fish with omega 3 Fatty Acids like salmon)- Numerous studies have found that depressed people lack a fatty acid known as EPA. The best way to get your omega-3 fatty acids is through fish, beans, walnuts, flaxseeds, and squash.
16. Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and flax seeds – all are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation and help fight depression.
So there you go. I hope these suggestions help you! Take a walk right now and grab a handful of walnuts as you march out the door. Remember you’re awesome. Chin up and feel better soon!
Susan : )